Saturday, January 29, 2011

So, you wanna live in Japan?

I have been blogging and video blogging since 2006. That is when I began my first and now defunct, blog about life in South Korea. While in Korea I began video blogging on You Tube. Four years and change later, I’m still making videos and writing blogs about my experiences overseas, as a teacher, runner, lover of the outdoors and parent. Obviously, if you read this blog, you know that I live in Japan. For that simple reason alone, there are many people attracted to what I have to say and show. I would love to say that all of my You Tube subscribers and blog readers follow me simply because I’m charming and have so many wise bits of knowledge to impart, but I realize that for many, the fact that I talk about Japan and Korea from time to time is why you are here.

Between all of the people who watch me on You Tube (close to 20,000 on my two channels combined) and the awesome people who take the time to read my blog, I get a lot of questions about life in Japan and Korea. Many of them are from people, who for various reason, would really love to come to Asia to work and live life. Some questions are very intelligent. Some are very insightful, some are awkward and some are just plain ridiculous.

Today, I was watching several of my good social media friends having a debate about this topic online. These are some cool people who are successful in various careers here in Japan. They are foreigners who came to Japan, worked very hard and are now enjoying various degrees of success. They are the kind of folk who many out there, aspiring to come to Japan want to emulate. Like anywhere, in Japan, if you want to be successful, you must work hard and often have a strong skill-set, and of course, build up a network.

There is no magic spell or trick to becoming a success here in Japan. During my almost three years here (not a long time), I have met a few very successful foreigners. All of them had some specific talent that got them where they were.

If you are interested in coming to Japan, great! Japan is a wonderful place that many fall in love with. It has a rich culture, cuisine and history. It is easy to see why so many are attracted to the place. If you do ant to come here though, you need some sort of plan. Many people say to me, “I just want to come to Japan cause it’s so amazing. I’m young, have no education, language abilities or skill-set, but I must get to Japan ASAP!” All I can do is shake my head when I hear that sort of talk. If you do want to come here and you are truly serious about it, you can’t just expect success to bite you in the ass because you are a gaijin (foreigner). You have to make a serious plan and work hard at it. Even then, there are no guarantees.

I don’t know as much as some, but I can share a few little tidbits of knowledge about coming to Japan (note that a level of sarcasm may at times be used!):

1. Get a job with a large non-Japanese company that has foreign offices in Japan. If you work for a big company (insurance, tech, banking) maybe you can get transferred to a Japanese office!

2. If you have a university degree, get a job as an English teacher. This can be at times tough (especially in Tokyo…..a lot of competition) since the English language market is continually shrinking, but it is indeed doable.

3. Come to Japan as a language student. If you sign up to study at a Japanese language school you can get a student visa. With a student visa you can work up to 20 hours a week. While you are here, you might be able to lay the groundwork for a job that will supply you with a working visa once your student visa is finished!

4. If you are an amazing musician you might be able to audition for some sort of hotel gig!

5. If you are an amazing skier/snowboarder, there are jobs in the ski resort areas such as Nagano and in Hokkaido. Many foreigners work at ski resorts during the winter months.

6. Maybe a tech sector job would suit you. Two things though, you will need amazing tech skills and also the ability to speak fluent Japanese. If you don’t have those, chances might not be so good.

7. Are you a professional chef, I’m sure more than few places (fancy hotels) may be looking for a few.
8. You can come to Japan as an exchange student.

9. If you are a credentialed teacher you can work at an international school (competition is stiff though).

10. Marry a Japanese person….boom….instant visa!

I’m not writing this post to be negative. I’m just writing it to be realistic. There are amazing opportunities for so many people who want to come to Japan, but you must set realistic goals. You must also have realistic expectations.

It is not always easy to even get to Japan let alone be successful in Japan. If you want it bad enough though, you can make a plan and work towards your goal. It may take time. It may take a long time, but if you are driven it will happen.

Now, as for the myth that any foreigner can become famous and rich in Japan, that’s exactly what it is, a myth. You become successful here the same way you would in Canada, America, England or any other country. You must work hard, have goals and sometimes, have a little luck.


Hiko said...

Hmmmm, that debate sounds familiar... :)

Good advice man - I'll recommend this.


おにぎりまん said...

Nice entry. A dose of reality is always good.

JY said...

very true...! and more a reality that most foreigners here teach is hard to get into other industries. I am in an industry OUTSIDE of the educational field, but it only took about 20 years to do so!

ティモシー said...

Even with a college degree (and a masters degree...) getting to Japan is no easy feat. I finally settled on teaching English and even getting that position proved difficult! And I'm posted in rural hokkaido!

Completely agree with your "just because you're a foreigner, you can't just waltz over to Japan and expect good times" sentiment. Also "come with a plan" - simple but wise.

I'm hoping with experience and improved Japanese skills, I'll be marketable in Tokyo... but we'll see...

Brokendrums said...

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment.

There is never anything wrong with working in education. I am a professional teacher in Canada and I love teaching here in Japan. Even with my job in the education field, I still had to be "qualified" to get it. It wasn't easy!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin,

i think you're right. Your post is very realistic. I have a question.
I live in Germany and I have a Japanese boyfriend who lives in Japan. He want me to come this year to Japan to live with him together in Yokohama also he wants to marry me this year. I have some Japanese skills, I study on my own at home. But the problem is, I have no school graduation, because I have a "sickness" called: "dyscalculia". My boyfriend said: "If you come to Japan, you will stay at my home and study 3 years Japanese with me and then you can find a job." I really appreciate this, but I'm very afraid, because I don't know if I could ever find a job there, because I don't have a graduation. I don't know what to do now. Shall I stay in Germany for 2~3 years and make my graduation/vocational training or go to Japan. It's a very difficult decision for me. My head says: "Stay in Germany" but my heart says: "Go to Japan". Do you know if I could maybe work in a kitchen of a hotel or something else? I don't need many money.. I want only work. I hope you can give me some advice.. I'm really confused.
(by the way: I'm sorry for my bad english.. :))
Thank you very much!

Mac @ JLPT Boot Camp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mac @ JLPT Boot Camp said...

It can be quite difficult to make it outside of the education field, but if you can speak fluent Japanese (or are willing to take a part time job to practice for awhile) you can get a job outside of education. It's best to be equipped with a N1 certification before you do so though.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your answer!
Hmm.. what do you mean with "N1 certification" ?? I don't know what that is.

Mac @ JLPT Boot Camp said...

Moe Superstar,
The N1 is the highest certification for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test or JLPT. Some jobs are available with a N2, but job opportunities go up by 30 times with an N1.

I know a few friends though that have gotten part time jobs like working at hotel or restaurant or something with less Japanese.

I would say you could spend a year just learning the language and taking volunteer classes that are really cheap. Then get a part time job, then after your 3rd year you might have pretty good fluency to get a full time job. It won't be easy, but it's possible.

As for a full-time job, you could be a German/Japanese translator (with an N1 and good speaking skills). Your native language is German right? There are plenty of companies here that have ties with Germany. Do you like writing?

Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach said...

I don't find this post negative at all. It's better to tell it how it is, then reach there and experience a harsh reality borne out of unrealistic expectations.

Some of the advice you give relates to any one who wants to move to any country. I work as a cross-cultural coach, mostly for people who want to move to America, and of course many people come to America with those same stars in their eyes. It's good to have a realistic expectation of what the situation, plan accordingly and of course have a healthy does of optimism and hope for the future.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mac @ JLPT Boot Camp ,

sorry for my late reply!
Thank you so much again for your answer! Now feel somewhat relieved. :)

Yes, my native language is German.
Writing? How?

Anonymous said...

I live in america, but the truth is that the latin america economy is going to hell and in europe many countries have good economy, why japan, because it's not like america, in america everyone speaks behind your back and I don't really like that, I just want to work and be happy.

Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach said...

I'd be hesitant to believe there is no gossip in any other country. Every country/culture has people who like to gossip. The thing is when we are newbies there, and especially foreigners who don't fully understand the language and culture and are outsiders we aren't affected simply because we are ignorant to what's happening around us. As we integrate into the society and learn the language and the subtle aspects of the culture, we come to realize what is going on.
Every culture on earth is a human culture, what faults are in one culture most likely will be in another culture, but surface in different ways (true of positive aspects too, of course.). Love to hear Kevin's take on this. long did you stay in Japan before you began to really understand Japanese culture and the subtle behavior or even speech?